BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Fit for a Fiesta

Funny how holidays tend to sneak up on a person, even when the date is baked into the name itself. Cinco de Mayo is largely an excuse for day drinking here in the states, but it would truly be a shame to let it pass without indulging in a bit of edible hedonism as well. Someone who was more prepared, or at least aware of the rapidly advancing calendar, might have shared something suitable with enough time to plan, prepare, and lock down a party game plan before the actual date.

I am not that person.

However, I don’t need to be, and neither do you! Not only are these spicy appetizers compulsively munchable, they’re effortless to throw together at the drop of a sombrero. Modeled after meatballs but inspired by tacos, each bite-sized morsel turns the classically meaty, spicy, typically messy dish into dainty finger food. No more crumbly taco shells dumping their contents all over your white pants; crushing tortillas into a crunchy coating allows them to remain perfectly crisp, yet intact and firmly adhered from plate to palate.

Clear your schedule, call up all your friends, and start crushing ice for a boatload of frozen margaritas; there’s a party brewing as soon as you preheat the oven.

Taco Bites

1 12-Ounce Package Vegan Beef Crumbles or Crumbled Tempeh
1/2 Cup Black Beans, Roughly Mashed or Refried Pinto Beans
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 Clove Garlic, Finely Minced
1/4 Cup Yellow Cornmeal
1 1/2 Teaspoons Chili Powder
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1/3 Cup Fresh Cilantro, Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Finely Crushed Tortilla Chips

Salsa, to Serve

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

Place your meatless crumbles of choice in the food processor, along with the beans, tomato paste, garlic, cornmeal, chili powder, paprika, cumin, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Pulse briefly to combine, but be careful not to over-blend. You want to break down the crumbles a bit but still leave a lot of texture here. Introduce the aquafaba, cilantro, and salt next, pulsing once more to incorporate. Blend just until you achieve a cohesive, meaty dough.

Scoop out balls the size of walnuts and roll them in the crushed tortilla chips, completely coating the exteriors. Place each ball on your prepared baking sheet and repeat the process until you’ve used up all of the central mixture.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the balls are firm and evenly browned. Serve hot, alongside your favorite salsa and an icy cold beverage.

Makes About 20 Bites

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Dig In

Unless referring to the planet itself, “earthy” is a descriptor of dubious praise. Much like the ambiguous label of “interesting,” such a word can be interpreted in many ways- Mostly negative. Mushrooms and beets can be earthy, and for as fervently as their fan clubs will tout the word as praise, their detractors just as quickly adopt it as evidence for their disdain. Telling someone to “eat dirt,” is a fairly clear insult, on the other hand, although I have no qualms recommending charcoal, ash, or lava for your next meal. Still, the mental imagery of picking up a handful of soil and chowing down inevitably leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.

This was the war of words I battled when agonizing on this new recipe’s title. Designed as a celebration of spring, gardening, and new growth, the original title was simply “Dirt Dip.” The dirty truth of the matter is that each distinctive strata was inspired by nature; worms, dirt, pebbles, and grass. Appetizing, right? Perhaps honesty is not the best policy here. Let’s start over.

Bursting forth with vibrant flavors ideal for celebrating the vernal equinox, I present to you my layered garden party dip. A base of savory caramelized onions sets a deeply umami foundation upon which this dynamic quartet is built. Fresh lemon and mint mingle just above in a creamy yet chunky black bean mash. Briny black olive tapenade accentuates these bold flavors, adding an addictive salty note that makes it impossible to resist a double-dip. Sealing the deal is a fine shower of snipped chives, lending a mellow onion note to bring all the layers together. Make sure you really dig in deep to get a bite of each one!

4-Layer Garden Party Dip

Caramelized Onions:

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Large Red Onion, Halved and Thinly Sliced
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Lemon-Mint Black Bean Dip:

1 15-Ounce Can (or 1 1/2 Cups Cooked) Black Beans, Drained and Rinsed
3 Cloves Roasted Garlic
1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3 Tablespoon Fresh Mint, Finely Chopped
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Tapenade:

1 Cup Pitted Black Olives
1 Tablespoon Capers
1 Clove Garlic
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley, Chopped

Garnish:

1/2 – 1 Ounce Fresh Chives, Finely Chopped

The caramelized onions will take the longest to prepare, so get them cooking first by setting a large skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and sliced onion, tossing to coat. Once the pan is hot and the onions become aromatic, turn down the heat to low and slowly cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 – 45 minutes until deeply amber brown. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool.

Meanwhile, make the bean dip by either tossing everything into your food processor and pulsing until fairly creamy and well-combined, or mashing the ingredients together in a large bowl by hand. You want to leave the dip fairly coarse for a more interesting texture, so stop short of a smooth puree if using the machine.

The tapenade is made just as easily. Either pulse all of the components together in your food processor or chop them by hand, until broken down and thoroughly mixed.

Finally, to assemble the dip, select a glass container to enjoy the full effect of your work. Smooth the caramelized onions into the bottom in an even layer, followed by the bean dip and then the tapenade. Sprinkle chives evenly all over the top. Serve at room temperature or chilled, with cut vegetable crudites, crackers, or chips.

The dip can be prepared in advance if stored in an air-tight container in the fridge, for up to a week.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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Triangles and Tribulations

If ever a single holiday could rival the festivities of Halloween, it would have to be Purim. The comparisons are obvious: Fanciful costumes, parties and games, and of course, sweet treats. Where Purim has the leg up on the competition, however, is in those much celebrated edible offerings. Rather than merely candy, hamantaschen are the traditional pastry-based prize. They’ve become synonymous with the observance, almost more important to the observance than the historical significance itself. A Purim party without hamantaschen would be like underwear without elastic; uncomfortable at best, but in practical terms, truly impossible.

Previous years have seen the sugar-flecked and jam-splattered variations flying fast and furious out of my oven. Traditional or avant-garde, it’s hard to go too far wrong when you start with tender, buttery cookie dough, so rich that the best cookies threaten to flatten out into triangular puddles while baking. Flipping the script in a drastically new approach is a dangerous proposition, considering their fervent following, but I can never leave well enough alone. Perhaps they’re only hamantaschen in spirit, but since any food with three corners can stand in as a representation of Haman’s hat, I’m hoping my wild digression might still get a pass.

Savory, not sweet. Steamed, not baked. Wonton wrapper, not cookie. We can argue the disparities all day long, but when it comes down to it, there’s no question about their taste. Stuffed with gloriously green edamame filling, these dumplings are a quicker and easier alternative to the typically fussy sweet dough, and offer much needed substance after overdosing on the aforementioned pastries. General folding advice still stands as a good guideline to follow when wrapping things up, but once you get those papery thin skins to stick, you’re pretty much golden. If you’re less confident in your dumpling prowess, cut yourself a break and fold square dumplings wrappers in half instead. You’ll still get neat little triangles, and with much less full.

Short on time but long on appetite, I’m not ashamed to take a few shortcuts to get these delightful little dumplings on the table. You can go all out with homemade edamame hummus and even dumpling skins from scratch, but this quick-fix solution allows you to steam up a quick batch at the last minute, or any time the craving strikes.

Edamame Hamantaschen Dumplings

1 Cup Shelled Edamame
1/3 Cup Edamame Hummus
1 Scallion, Thinly Sliced
1 Clove Garlic, Finely Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Finely Minced Fresh Ginger
1 Teaspoon Soy Sauce
1 Teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin

Savoy Cabbage
15 (3-Inch) Round Wonton Skins or Gyoza Wrappers*
Additional Soy Sauce, to Serve

*You can typically find these either in the produce section near the tofu, or in the freezer aisle with other Asian ingredients. Double-check the labels because these sometimes include eggs.

The filling comes together in a snap so for maximum efficiency, set up your steaming apparatus first. Line a bamboo steamer or metal steam rack with leaves of savoy cabbage to prevent the dumplings from sticking to the bottom, and start the water simmering in a large pot.

Simply mix together the shelled edamame, hummus, scallion, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and cumin, stirring thoroughly. Lay out your dumpling wrappers and place about 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of each one. Run a lightly moistened finger around the entire perimeter and bring the sides together, forming three bounding walls. Tightly crimp the corners together with a firm pinch.

Place on the cabbage leaves and cover the steamer or pot. Steam for 2 – 4 minutes, until the wrappers are translucent. Serve immediately, with additional soy sauce for dipping if desired.

Makes 15 Dumplings

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Eat to the Beet

Well into my second decade of veganism, it’s difficult to imagine anyone turning up their noses at beets, even though I was once firmly in that camp, too. Dark and earthy, they’re a polarizing specimen that still divides many otherwise harmonious dinner parties. Somehow the haters always take me by surprise, no matter how many times I see the look of disgust pass their eyes upon the vaguest mention of these humble root vegetables. Perhaps they’ve simply never had beets prepared with the love and care they need to shine; a bit of coaxing and a slow oven transforms the beet into a sublimely sweet, tender delicacy, no matter what other spices are invited to the party.

I will forever fight to win over those who haven’t been properly introduced to the kinder, gentler ways of the beet. Golden beets are the gateway to greater beet appreciation; milder yet somehow brighter than their blood-red brothers, they positively glow on the plate.

Naturally rich and full-bodied, it doesn’t take much to dress up a gold beet. Salty, cheesy tofu feta draws attention to the beets’ striking sweetness, which is further accentuated by a spritely twist of citrus. Something so simple couldn’t possibly be so good… And yet it surpasses all expectations, especially for someone expecting that same old taste of “dirt” they associate with those much maligned vegetables. No matter how seemingly indelible the stain on one’s memory may be, these beets will leave behind only contented smiles, and perhaps a healthy new craving.

Stuffed Golden Beets

8 Small or 4 Medium Gold Beets
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Tofu Feta, Crumbled, Plus More to Serve if Desired
1/2 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1/2 Teaspoon Orange Zest

When selecting your beets, bear in mind that larger ones will be easier to work with, but they will take longer to cook. Smaller beets make for excellent appetizers while medium ones are ideal single-serving side dishes.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lightly grease and set aside.

Remove the greens from the beets and reserve them for another recipe (like creamed greens or pesto.) Scrub them very thoroughly; the skins are thin enough that they’re entirely edible, but need a good cleaning first. Rub olive oil all over the outsides of the beets and sprinkle with salt before placing them on your prepared baking sheet, giving them plenty of space to breathe so that they cook more evenly. Cover with another sheet of foil to prevent them from browning too much.

Roast for 60 – 75 minutes, until fork-tender. Let stand until cool enough to handle, and then slice off the top 1/4 of each beet. Use a melon baller to hollow out the larger part, being careful to keep the outer walls intact. Save the innards for another recipe (try my Pistachio-Quinoa Pilaf!)

Crumble the tofu feta and toss it with the lemon and orange zest before stuffing it into the beets. Mound it up slightly, and replace the tops to mostly cover the filling. Return the beets to the oven for another 15 minutes or so, until lightly brown and warmed through. Crumble additional feta over the top if desired.

Makes 4 – 8 Servings

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Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

Now where did I put that recipe? My filing system is hardly fool-proof, and probably completely incomprehensible to anyone other than me, but rarely do I lose recipes entirely. All works in progress are always digital, at least, so there aren’t a hundred scraps of splattered and stained paper piled high on tables or shoved into desk drawers. Most are now carefully organized into the graciously all-inclusive cloud, always searchable and instantly backed up, putting my anxious mind at ease. That’s why it’s confounding when things still slip through the cracks, despite the care taken to prevent such disasters. Misplacing a recipe for something as stunningly delicious as this hummus recipe, for example, was nearly a snacking tragedy.

Dramatic words indeed, but this particular mash-up of both that beloved garbanzo bean spread and cool, creamy cucumber tzatziki exceeded even my own expectations from the very first batch. Lighter and fresher than the typical dip, crisp cucumbers added textural contrast so often missing from hummus. Zesty lemon and dill brightened the flavor profile considerably, imparting an unmistakably summery flavor, even if made in the heart of winter. I had made it numerous times before and thought for sure that such a winning savory delight must have surely made it on the blog already. Searching through the archives turned up precisely zero matches though, much to my growing fear, and the hunt was on. Nope, not in the aforementioned cloud. Not on the laptop. Not on the external hard drive. Not even published anywhere- Which it truly deserved to be. How could I let something as wonderful as that hummus go extinct?

Dejectedly accepting that it was gone for good, it was only then that the recipe found me. Hiding in the darkest corner of the desktop computer, in a long forgotten file, there it sat, waiting patiently to see the light of day. Introductions are long overdue, but thank goodness you can finally meet the one that almost got away. Snatch up the recipe and save it well! After trying it just once, you’d feel the sting of longing if you misplaced it, too.

Hummiki (Hummus-Tzatziki)

1 6-Ounce Container (3/4 Cup) Plain, Unsweetened Soy Yogurt
1 15-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cup) Chickpeas, Drained and Rinsed
2 Large Cloves Roasted Garlic
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Zest and Juice of 1/2 Lemon
1 Tablespoon Chopped Fresh Dill
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
Salt and Pepper
1 Cup Seeded and Finely Diced Cucumber

Toss all of the ingredients into your trusty food processor or blender, except for the cucumber, and puree thoroughly, until silky-smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to get everything mixed in, and give the machine ample time to blend. For the best consistency, it may take as long as 5 – 10 minutes, so be patient. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in the chopped cucumber by hand, and chill for at least 2 hours before serving for the best flavor. It will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week… If you can resist eating it all long before then.

Makes 3 1/2 – 4 Cups

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Sweet Heat

Successful appetizers manage to pack serious taste sensation into a small, bite-sized package. When the food is eaten in one gulp, there’s no room for meek spices or filler of any sort. That’s where these easy, intensely flavorful little snacks come in. After an over-enthusiastic purchase that resulted in many leftover shishito peppers, I soon was forced to scheme up new ways to use up my bounty, beyond the traditional grilling method. Contrasting flavors were the name of the game, and so I turned to the humble sweet potato. The gentle sweetness of those orange-fleshed tubers seems to both accentuate and mellow the heat of those green chiles, effortlessly adding another dimension. Despite how deceptively easily they come together, they’re quite complex in flavor, and had me reaching for a second, and a third, before I knew it.

Shishito Pepper Poppers

1 Pound Sweet Potatoes, Peeled and Cubed
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1/2 Pound Shishito Peppers
1 Canned Chipotle in Adobo, Finely Minced
1/4 Cup Coconut Milk
1 Tablespoon Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
1 Tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
Pinch Cayenne Pepper (Optional)
Chopped Walnuts or Pecans (Optional)
Chopped Fresh Parsley or Cilantro, for Garnish

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking sheet with a silpat, aluminum foil, or parchment paper.

Toss the peeled cubes of sweet potato and with the oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper so that the pieces are all evenly coated. Spread them out on your prepared baking sheet in one even layer, and roast until fork-tender and lightly browned around the edges; about 20 – 30 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool for at least 5 – 10 minutes before proceeding, so that they’re easier to handle.

Meanwhile, you can go ahead and prep your shishito peppers. Slice each on in half, and carefully remove the seeds and white inner membrane. Set aside.

To complete the filling, take your roasted potatoes and add the minced chipolte, coconut milk, margarine or coconut oil, sugar, and cinnamon. Mash thoroughly, until mostly smooth but with a few small chunks remaining for texture. If you really like it hot, go ahead and add in cayenne pepper, to taste, but bear in mind that the shishitos will add a good deal of spice to the party, too. For a crunchy contrast, toss in a handful of finely chopped nuts, in desired. Fold in so that the pieces are well distributed.

Spoon or pipe the mashed sweet potatoes into your halved peppers. You may have leftover filling, but it makes for a fantastic side dish all on its own, too. Line up the stuffed peppers on the same baking sheet you just used. No need to clean it; the leftover oil will help to prevent the peppers from sticking. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the peppers have wilted slightly and are tender. Let cool before serving, top with parsley or cilantro if desired, and serve warm or at room temperature.

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Sprung a Leek

Quick to complain and always searching for those little imperfections, it figures that we couldn’t just throw our hands up and celebrate this sudden mid-February thaw. Finally, Isis can actually walk out into the yard without being swallowed up into that white quicksand, and mailboxes are finally extricating themselves from frozen tombs. “Spring” is the word on everyone’s lips, spoken in excited tones, and I can’t hide my enthusiasm either. The winter took a steep toll, the full extent of which is only beginning to reveal itself now, after the storm. Despite all of these encouraging signs outside, all is not well inside.

Walking into the kitchen one day, I noticed a conspicuous wet spot on the tiled floor. Jumping to conclusions I immediately turned to the poor pup, assuming she had an accident in protest of the windy, inhospitable outdoor bathroom that otherwise awaited… But within a few seconds I discovered the real culprit.

Bloop… bloop… bloop…

Turning skywards, it was plain to see that water was dripping at a steady pace from the ceiling. Straight through the beam, down the wall, all across the kitchen counter and floor. Brown, dirty water, melted from snow and ice on the roof, soaking through papers and warping the cabinets. A greater horror in that room, I have yet to see, including my most misguided baking experiments. We had a leak, our first ever in this house, in arguably our most important living space – Not to mention my “office”. Tormented and terrified by these new destructive developments, I could do nothing except strategically position pots and pans to collect the mucky water.

After a solid two weeks of feeling like I’m living in a poorly constructed submarine, it seems that the leak has dripped itself dry, at least for the time being. Fearful glances upward now reveal obscene water damage; peeling paint, multiple holes, and cracked wood, but at the very least, no more water. I’ll take what I can get now, no complaints here.

As an homage to my structurally unsound ceiling, I simply couldn’t resist a very leek-y dish, hoping that perhaps an offering of food would placate the leaky ceiling god. When put in the spotlight, leeks are best prepared very simply if you ask me, and so I kept them fairly plain in this quick appetizer. A little heat to melt them and soften their more pungent edges is all it takes. What elevates the dish to a memorable morsel is the bright red romesco sauce, which provides a slightly spicy pop of creamy roasted pepper to perch those lovely alliums atop.

While I know that this assembly was created with the leeks in mind, I couldn’t help but go back to the romesco sauce, unadorned, for seconds. Versatile to a fault, I’ve already whipped up second and third batches to smoother pasta with, use as a dip, drizzle over salads, thin out for soups… You name it! This is a condiment you’ll want to have on hand at all times- Hopefully you won’t need to be prompted by leaky ceilings to try it the first time.

Leek-y Romesco Crostini

Romesco Sauce or Dip:

1/2 Cup Slivered, Toasted Almonds
1/4 Cup Toasted Wheat Germ
1 Large Clove Garlic, Roasted
2 Medium Red Peppers, Roasted
1/2 Cup Strained Tomatoes / Tomato Puree
2 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar
2 Teaspoons Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Salt, or to Taste

Sauteed Leeks:

1 Fat Leek, Cleaned and Dark Greens Removed (Save them for making vegetable stock!) (3 1/2 Cups Chopped)
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon White Miso Paste (Optional)
Pinch Salt and Black Pepper

Assembly:

Fresh Baguette, Sliced Thinly (About 1/2 cm Thick) and Lightly Toasted
Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

Beginning with the romesco, throw all of the ingredients for the sauce into your food processor or blender. Traditionally, it’s a bit of a chunky spread, but I prefer mine perfectly smooth and creamy, so I use my Vita-Mix. Blend to your desired consistency, scraping down the sides of the work bowl periodically so that no large chunks are left behind, and set aside. I find it tastes better if you allow it to sit for at least 2 hours before serving, so that the flavors can meld, but it can be eaten right away too.

For the leek topping, slice your thick leek into quarters lengthwise, and then chop it into 1/2-inch pieces. I love the look of rings or half moons, but it’s not so graceful to take a bite of crostini and end up with a big loop of leek hanging out of your mouth, so resist the temptation to leave the pieces larger.

Heat up the oil in a sautee pan over medium heat, loosen up the miso paste in it if using, and toss in the chopped leek. Stir every 5 minutes or so for a total of 20 – 25 minutes, until the leek is soften but not completely mushy. Add salt and pepper to taste, and let cool for at least 15 minutes.

Both the sauce and leek topping can be made in advance as well. Just store both in air-tight containers in the fridge for 4 – 5 days, and assemble the crostini just prior to serving.

To put the crostini together, just smear a healthy dollop of the romesco on top of the toasted bread, and spoon about 1 – 2 tablespoons of the sauteed leek over that. Finish with a very light sprinkling of red pepper flakes.

Makes About 2 1/2 – 3 Cups Sauce; Servings Vary

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